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With the assistance of funding from the Australian government, The University of Melbourne, Department of Rural Health, has established the Going Rural Health program to support nursing (and allied health) students to undertake some of their clinical placements in rural areas.

The aim is to train students in rural practice and provide them with the inspiration to consider a rural career once qualified. The project trains students in authentic rural settings and provides relevant education programs that work to frame the rural practice experience. Accompanied with clinical placements in community, primary health and non-acute based settings, the program provides financial, travel and accommodation assistance, education in rural and Aboriginal health, mentoring and community engagement opportunities.

However, education is only as good as its educators; staff who supervise the students are provided with ongoing education, mentoring and support so as to capitalise and build upon the skills and knowledge that already exist in rural and regional areas. Frequently education is ‘outsourced’ to external providers, often from urban areas where the healthcare needs are distinct to that of rural practice. Through the Going Rural Health program we aim to expand the number and quality of rural educators so they highlight the level of skill required to practice rurally as well as the diversity and flexibility of rural practice. The aim is to train nurses in rural settings so they are ready to work in rural settings.

The Going Rural Health program has been in place since 2015 and student satisfaction with the program is consistently rated as positive by 96% of students surveyed (2015-16). In addition, the program is developing new placements in contemporary nursing settings, such as in primary healthcare, community health and research. Education programs are being developed in innovative ways with simulated patients, online learning, cultural skills and evidence based practice, and instilling an approach of lifelong learning. While it is still a resource intensive task for small, rural health services to provide student placements, with support and training for staff, financial assistance for students and some student education provided regionally and via technology, the Going Rural Health team contributes to developing the future rural nursing workforce.

Furthermore, the program is learning from the well established nursing education model and implementing similar approaches in allied health. The aim is to learn from nursing so as to increase the number of dedicated student supervisors, continuing to value the contribution made by educators to student and staff learning, and increasing staff training. One of the goals of the Going Rural Health program is for allied health disciplines to reap the benefits of such a culture of education, training and workforce development that has been established in rural nursing practice.

For more information on the Going Rural Health Program, go to www.goingruralhealth.

Keryn Bolte is Student Placement Manager for the Going Rural Health Program, Department of Rural Health at the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences at The University of Melbourne.

Lisa Bourke is a Social Worker and the Director of the University Department of Rural Health at The University of Melbourne.